Evan Dale // May 23, 2020
Highs & lows with all the emotion of soul in between. The beauty of soul, of R&B, and of the broad human scale of emotionality exists in juxtapositions. The expressive explosions of love and lust, loss and forfeiture drive its listeners to points of remembrance and reflection on the good and the bad; the past and the yet to pass. It’s that raw relatability and reconciliation which draws listeners to soul and R&B’s timelessness. And it’s artists like Nao and Giveon – both incredibly adept to their respectively unique ranges – that can express, imitate, and evoke the broadest scales of human emotion available to music.
Think on the greatest duetting soul and R&B collaborations of the past – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell; Rufus & Carla; Luther Vandross & Cheryl Lynn – and think of their ability to shine a light on emotion that no one else – not even those artists in solo – could achieve. The beauty of the romantic duet is well-documented, but with both Neo-Soul and R&B exploding at a pace never paralleled before, there’s so much more to explore.
How They Compare
UK soulstress, Nao is an enigma from the roots of her very aesthetic to the groundbreaking experimentation she implements into each and every track. An image of modern R&B with a twist towards what has to be the highest of pitch tendencies in all of music, no one has ever quite sounded like her. And yet something about her work and its brash individualism is painstakingly relatable. For listeners, it’s comforting to hear artists discussing the applicable love, life, and loss thematics that Neo-Soul explores at an untouched depth. But, separating herself one step beyond the relatability of thematic moments, and harnessing a voice like none other gives Nao’s music an air of even more personal address. Hers at time feels like our inner monologue (or dialogue, no shame), bleeding of emotional pleas and attempts at understanding, and that is what has always been the most intriguing result of her catalogue to date.
Giveon is similar in the fact that he exists as somewhat of Nao’s antithesis. The Long Beach baritone has made a name for himself not just for his incredible ability to instill emotion into his work’s pen, but because he – like Nao – hones one of the most unique vocal ranges in all of music. Baritones aren’t new to soul. If anything, with artists like Giveon and Kwaku Asante, they’re making a strong, soulful comeback. But Giveon – to this generation at least – is the most recognizable and quickly ascending low tone to an R&B scene until his recent breakout, dominated by male falsettos. His ability to instill emotion and relate to his audience is also tied heavily to the differentiation in his unobtainable range.
How They Contrast
The same thing that makes Nao & Giveon figures of brash comparison and relatability to one another, is also the thing that contrasts them the most. Their vocal ranges seem to exist on opposite end of the scale to what is humanly possible in Neo-Soul and R&B – already the two most rangy sects of music’s broad stylistic swatch. With Nao’s natural tendency leaning towards the highest notes possible, and with Giveon’s oriented by an opposite pole, the two in collaboration would be a stark, startling contrast. And by the tenets of soul music’s past, differentiation between duetting partners only evokes more emotion; resonates more deeply with an audience.
It should be noted, too, that with such natural extremes to their sounds, the two also have more range as individual artists than just about any vocalists in music. Listen to Nao’s Bad Blood and hear her nail some incredible lows that no other soulstress could muster. Listen to Giveon’s new project, TAKE TIME, and hear him strike some stifling falsettos. With so much range as soloists, imagine what is possible in collaboration.
Proof in the Past
Though Nao’s canon is much deeper at this point in their respective careers, even her collaborative past isn’t as stacked as most artists in a modern music scene that has made collaborative work more accessible than ever. Nonetheless, her 2016 debut, For All We Know pulled in the wide-ranging talent of Abhi//Dijon; while her 2018 album, Saturn, brought in a joint effort with TDE’s SiR. Both of those tracks in particular grant a glimpse into how she could work not only in collaboration, but in collaboration in particular with a very unique male vocalist in counterpart.
Giveon, on the other hand, is largely without past collaborations. As such a young artist with a still emerging canon – only just this year releasing his debut project, TAKE TIME, his proof is more of speculation. There is no doubt that already, artists are lining up to work with the unique voice. At a time in music history where the individual and the unheard before are held at the highest regard, Giveon’s voice would, and will, grant so many artists an opportunity they can’t find elsewhere. For Nao in particular, that opportunity would manifest itself as the intriguing coalescence of unique voices possible in today R&B scene.
How They Collaborate
At this point, it’s probably repetitive, but the difference in range, and the similarities into the width of that range is what would make a collaboration between Nao & Giveon so unique. There are a number of artists inhabiting the gray areas between Neo-Soul & R&B that could make amazing music together. And for the same reasons as any of those – emotional evocation, songwriting ability, relatability – Nao & Giveon would also shine. It just so happens that they have the little something else necessary to bring a collaborative track into the timeless soul stratosphere.